Senators are catching up with the House on a measure to close what some lawmakers are calling a loophole around evidence tampering in capital offense cases.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday unanimously advanced legislation (SB 796) to raise the penalty for tampering, hiding or destroying physical evidence in capital felony cases from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony. Fleming Island Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley, who sponsors the measure, said that would bring the evidence tampering punishment in line with the perjury penalty, calling the current situation a loophole.
A person convicted of perjury commits a third-degree felony. However, a person convicted of perjury during a capital felony case commits a second-degree felony.
Examples of capital offenses include first-degree murder, rape and even some drug trafficking offenses.
Evidence tampering made headlines in Northeast Florida this year after the murder of a teenage girl in St. Johns County. The suspect’s mother was charged with attempting to scrub the murder victim’s blood out of her son’s jeans, and despite the seriousness of the crime, only a third-degree felony charge is being pursued.
Rep. Sam Garrison, a fellow Fleming Island Republican, is sponsoring the House version of the bill (HB 287). That measure passed its second of three committees last week and is slated for a hearing before its final panel, the House Judiciary Committee, on Wednesday. The full House could then consider the bill.
Bradley told senators the bill is now a dialed-back version of one the Criminal Justice Committee passed last year, which also included violent felony offenses.
State Attorneys indicated their support for the measure.
Lawmakers advanced the bill with few questions and no debate.
According to the staff analysis, legislative prognosticators suspect the bill will likely increase Florida’s prison population — a factor that could draw arrows from proponents of criminal justice reform. On the House side, St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Michele Rayner, a lawyer, is so far the sole lawmaker to vote against the measure.
The Senate bill next heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
If approved, the proposal would take effect Oct. 1.